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Three opt out of NHL All-Star Game

Jan. 28, 2003 at 1:45 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Toronto goaltender Ed Belfour, suffering from back spasms, is one of three players to withdraw from the All-Star NHL Game on Sunday in Sunrise, Fl.

Also missing will be Montreal center Saku Koivu, a cancer survivor who will use the time off for diagnostic testing, and New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, who is out with an ankle injury.

Ottawa goalie Patrick Lalime has replaced Belfour, Florida center Olli Jokinen will fill-in for Koivu, and defenseman Tom Poti will take the place of his teammate Leetch.

Belfour, in his first season with Toronto, missed three games last week before returning for losses on Friday and Saturday.

According to team officials, it was more important for Belfour to get the five days rest instead of "displaying his skill" next weekend.

Belfour is 21-14-3 with five shutouts, a 2.15 goals-against average, and .925 save percentage. He signed over the summer after Curtis Joseph left for Detroit.

Jokinen, who leads all Eastern Conference centers in goals, joins teammate Sandis Ozolinsh on the Eastern Conference squad. He has 25 goals and 17 assists in 49 games this season.

Koivu, who overcame non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2001-02, has 13 goals and 33 assists in 51 games this season.

Leetch, who has not played since Dec. 3, is out with an ankle injury. Prior to the injury, he had 15 points in 28 games.

Poti, 25, making the first All-Star appearance of his career, has seven goals and 31 assists in 51 games. The points and assists already are career highs.

Pittsburgh superstar Mario Lemieux also is contemplating skipping the contest. The league's leading scorer is battling a groin pull.

Meanwhile, Mike Modano of Dallas was named captain of the West squad on Tuesday.

Modano, 32, the Stars' all-time leading scorer, is making his fifth All-Star Game appearance but first start. He led all conference centers in fan voting.

He and teammate Bill Guerin will start, while Dallas goaltender Marty Turco was named as a reserve.

"It's a tremendous honor to be named captain of the Western Conference All-Star team," Modano said. "Being voted in as a starter by the fans, as well as having Bill and Marty there makes it even more special. I am looking forward to the entire weekend in Florida."

Modano leads the Stars in points (56) and assists (36), and is second in goals (20). His 56 points rank him fifth in the league.

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